Gemstone Honors Program

Class of 2006 Teams

Advancing Ignition Interlock

In 2004, the National Highway Safety and Traffic Association reported over 280 traffic accident fatalities in Maryland which were related to alcohol consumption and impairment. Ignition interlocks, devices that require a breath sample before allowing a car’s ignition to start, are being used as an effective way to prevent repeat drunk driving offenses. Our project studies the ignition interlock program in Maryland, focusing specifically on its technological and social/administrative aspects. Our initial research revealed problems in the use of and compliance with ignition interlock programs and we attempted to find ways to improve it. Our goals included determining the feasibility of a tandem device to make interlock devices more convenient and finding ways to improve the efficiency of interlock administrators and accessibility of information to participants. Our research questions sought to determine what aspects of an interlock program are useful, based on comparative research among programs in other states and internationally. We also tested technological alternatives to make the device more convenient by conducting lab experiments to evaluate the feasibility of a passive sensor. Finally, we examined processes to use information technology to help monitor the program participants more effectively. After compiling our results we will present the findings to the Maryland Vehicle Administration with detailed recommendations to improve the program.

Augmented Reality

Our team is creating a software toolbox for the rapid deployment of Augmented Reality [AR] systems. AR systems make complex tasks easier by providing access to information not usually perceptible to human senses. They are used in a range of applications from total battlefield awareness to minimally invasive surgery. Our test application organizes and displays data relevant to the user's location. The current system uses existing technologies such as GPS and wireless networks to provide access to satellite imagery, maps, electronic graffiti, and traditional websites. We utilized a survey that gauges interest in the various features of the test application and measured the willingness of students to share their location and other information with others.

Cancer Education Team

We have designed and implemented a peer education program aimed at changing college students' attitudes regarding behaviors that reduce cancer risk. We have conducted an on-campus survey to gauge student interest in cancer-related topics. We have also reviewed the literature on cancer risks and prevention as well as effective methods of disseminating this information. The program emphasized the link between cancer risk and lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, and smoking. The program specifically targeted college students and tailored the information to the college lifestyle. To analyze the efficacy of this program, we used a pre- and post-test research design. Preliminary results showed that students’ attitudes changed as a result of the program and that they had a greater acknowledgement of the link between cancer and lifestyle factors.

Computer Models of Physiological Systems

The frequency of subarachnoid hemorrhage and death due to ruptured intracranial aneurysms is such a risk that treatment of these abnormalities is often suggested. However, in a significant number of cases, the risk of treating an aneurysm appears to be comparable or greater to that of not intervening. Currently, the only factor that is generally taken into consideration when making the decision to operate is the size of the aneurysm. Often this proves to be insufficient. Our research examines the possibility of using commercially available software to simulate blood-flow through intracranial aneurysms and their surrounding blood vessels. With the information gathered, a prediction can be made as to the probability of each individual aneurysm rupturing. Armed with a this knowledge, doctors could make better decisions when deciding whether to operate or not.

Electromagnetic Weapons

The capability of electromagnetic (EM) radiation to disrupt or destroy electronic equipment has long been understood, but little analysis has been done on the potential socio-economic results. Despite the increased emphasis on domestic and international security in recent years, little mention has been made of the EM threat. Our research is motivated by the fact that, due to ever-increasing societal reliance on the electronic infrastructure, the consequences of an EM attack may be catastrophic. We investigated the possible social, economic, and technological impact of an EM attack. To gain an understanding of the resources required to successfully exploit this vulnerability, and the possible consequences of an attack, we turned to mathematical modeling and circuit simulations. Could a determined individual construct a powerful EM device using freely available information and common components? What steps can be taken to preclude serious consequences? To this end, we explored the available options to protect electronic devices from the harmful effects of EM radiation. Accounting for these possibilities in the design and implementation of computer networks and infrastructure systems will minimize the threat posed by EM attacks in the future.

Expanding Awareness of Mute Swans

Our team assessed public awareness of the serious ecological threat mute swans pose to the health of the Chesapeake Bay by consuming inordinate amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation each year. We designed a statewide phone survey measuring public awareness of the mute swan issue as well as support for population control measures. This idea grew into a legal battle between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and animal rights' organizations over the issue of mute swan population control. This survey cost $7000 and was funded in part by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources ($5000) and the Gemstone program ($2000). Our results will be presented to the Maryland DNR so they may have a quantitative measure of support for mute swan population control among Maryland citizens.

Extracurricular Activities

Our research centers on the design and implementation of an extracurricular activities program. We developed a 12-week program that was designed to expose middle school students to a variety of activities that may not be part of a regular school curriculum. The program themes ranged from athletic activities to service learning, to cultural activities, and were selected due to their propensity to impart lasting and real benefits to the students. As a team, we developed and implemented the program to a group of students at a local middle school. We performed case studies on several of the students in our program and were able to obtain some rewarding findings. This project has added to the literature on a topic that has only a sparse amount of research. We also feel that this program model will benefit students and can be implemented in any middle school in the country.

Fleet Industry Technology Impacts

Many businesses know that their fleets are operating inefficiently, but they do not know what types of tools are available on the market that will help them to manage their operations better. There are a variety of different fleet management tools currently available on the market, as well as consultants and fleet management experts that will build a complete customized system for any business willing to pay for it. In addition to not knowing what tools will help, there is often resistance from both employees and management to any change of operations, especially when it involves the implementation of a new technology with which they are not familiar. Management must be extremely cautious when implementing new technologies, to ensure that the purpose and means of using the new technology are aligned properly with the company’s strategy and mission. The company’s culture and corporate environment play a large role in deciding whether or not to use technology to manage fleets more efficiently. The final and most important aspect in the decision is the bottom line additions to revenue that the technology will provide. Financial as well as intangible benefits, combined with the affordability of a fleet management system will be the ultimate determinants for management if they want to implement one into the daily operations of the business.


The completion of the Human Genome Project by the National Institutes of Health in 2003 provided unprecedented insight into mankind’s composition, uncovering a veritable map of the human genetic code. The project allowed for the emergence of a new prognostic tool called genetic testing, which, besides diagnosing diseases already developed in the body, has the potential to yield insight into future diagnoses. The emergence of this new information can be used beneficially to predict, prevent, and treat disease, but can also be used less benevolently to discriminate and stigmatize. Current legislation does not directly address the specific issues surrounding genetic testing and its potential abuses. Therefore, through a comprehensive analysis of current legislation and literature, and through in-depth interviews with women who were predisposed toward developing breast cancer, the GenEthics team sought to evaluate whether the protection provided by current legislation (both perceived and actual) adequately guards people who have undergone genetic testing from discrimination or stigmatization. The study hopes to provide specific policy recommendations based on the fears and anxieties our interview participants shared, so that legislation can be changed to encourage people to pursue the most effective and efficient means of medical care and utilize the emerging technologies discovered by the Human Genome Project.

High Fidelity Computer Sound

Our team has investigated software designed to improve the sound of computer speakers. The basis of our research is digital signal processing with MATLAB, which includes applying psychoacoustics and calibrating speakers. We conducted both objective and subjective tests of our software. The target demographic for this project is those who live in dorm rooms and lack the space for an elaborate speaker setup. Our project is innovative in its approach to fulfilling high fidelity sound at a low cost.

Phosphorus Agriculture Runoff Management

Eutrophication is a problem that plagues the Chesapeake Bay. Rainfall induces surface runoff and erosion of the top layer of the soil that consequently generates a flow of phosphorus into the bay and its tributaries. This excess phosphorus fuels eutrophication and an over production of algae which compete with the aquatic flora and fauna for sunlight and oxygen. Poultry are fed grains that are rich in both nitrogen and phosphorus and the birds are relatively inefficient in utilizing the feed nutrients for growth and development. Consequently, the manure generated by poultry also is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Certain chemical forms of phosphorus bind very tightly to the soil and resist movement with drainage water. Our Gemstone project focuses on finding a by-product from industrial manufacturers and water treatment facilities that possess phosphorus retention qualities. These low-value industrial and municipal by-products, which often pose disposal challenges for the facilities that generate them, may be applied to high phosphorus soil to increase the phosphorus retention capacity of the soil and reduce the potential for phosphorus runoff to surface water. In other words, our main goal is to study the phosphorus retention capacity of agricultural soils amended with various industrial and municipal by-products. Further, we want to use our results to promote a plan to implement this idea into existent management practices within the agricultural farmland society.


The purpose of the Play Inc. team study was to improve community inclusive recreation programs through a two-phase examination and intervention. Initially, the successes and shortcomings of local community inclusive recreation programs were examined. Survey research methods were used to identify similarities between the programs and potential areas of improvement. Best practices for inclusive recreation programs were also determined through interviews with academic experts. The most important and feasible areas for improvement identified were training and disability awareness. In a second phase of the project, the effects of a peer intervention program to increase interactions between children with and without disabilities were examined in an inclusive summer camp. A multiple probe single subject design was used to determine the effects of the STAR intervention on six dyads of campers aged five through ten over two week sessions. Each dyad consisted of one camper with a mild to moderate disability and one camper without a disability. The results showed an overall increase in the number of interactions and demonstrated that the STAR program was effective in increasing interactions between campers with and without disabilities. Factors contributing to the success of the intervention are discussed as well as limitations.

Sustainable Housing Initiative

Our team has worked on plans for the renovation of the Carroll, Wicomico, and Caroline residence halls on the UMD campus. Our purpose was threefold: primarily to redesign the three buildings to be more environmentally-friendly, to make the dorms more comfortable, and to redesign the dorms so that they may be the future home of the Gemstone Program. Our thesis focused on new green technologies and ways to create a sustainable living environment. We hope it will serve as a guide to building planners when the residence halls are actually renovated. We have considered intricate details about building materials, energy production and usage, waste management, and even social issues. Furthermore, we hope our thesis will serve as a model for the construction and renovation of green residence halls at other universities.

Team Vaccines

After observing college students’ hesitation to participate in vaccine clinical trials, specifically trial for the Herpevac™, a vaccine to prevent the contraction of genital herpes (HSV-2) in women, at the University of Maryland Health Center, our team decided to focus its research on understanding the perceptions and attitudes of college students towards vaccinations preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Three focus groups were held as hypothesis-generating tools, followed by an initial survey and then a follow-up survey. Through our focus group research, we found that Herpevac™ produces stigma-related concerns in numerous individuals. From this and additional information gathered during our discussions, we constructed an initial online survey, administered to a random population of undergraduate students. After analyzing the data from the initial survey, our team created the follow-up survey to more closely examine certain relationships between stigma and personal choices. Administered in the same method but of a much shorter length, the follow-up survey asked parallel questions about Herpevac™ and Gardasil™, a vaccine that protects against two genotypes of the human papilloma virus (HPV) which cause genital warts, cervical cancer, and penile cancer. By uncovering a college population’s sources of hesitation or resistance to STI vaccination, our team was able to generate significant findings with which to provide biopharmaceutical companies suggestions for future STI vaccine marketing campaigns. We are optimistic that through this increased awareness of college students’ perceptions and attitudes, our research may ultimately aid efforts to increase vaccination and decrease the acquisition of STIs.